Jane McNally was a missionary for forty years in India and the
founder and editor of Light of Life magazine. She is the
author of Abuse of Christian Women in India, published with a
response by Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, Remedy in 12 Biblical
Studies (ISPCK, Delhi, 1999), and updated and recently published in
the U.S. by William Carey Library, Pasadena. In 1944, she wrote The
Place of Women in the New Testament Church for her master's thesis
at Wheaton College.
Ms. McNally's most recent
writing is "Another Look at Eve," written for Dharma Deepika, Chennai,
India. The article appeared also in Light of Life, Mumbai
in Priscilla Papers, Winter 2001. It is used here with the permission of
Another Look at Eve
What does the Bible really say about her participation in
by Jane McNally
Traditional Jewish and Christian interpretations of the early chapters of
Genesis have led to the heaviest blame often falling on Eve for the entrance of
sin and death into the world. I have encountered in most surprising places
– from a godly Indian pastor and from a writer in a leading Christian magazine –
the almost word-for-word affirmation of Sirach 25:24 (about 250 B.C.) in the
Apocrypha: “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.”
Faulty interpretations of many Bible texts foster the low status, oppression,
and abuse of women the world around, which is one of our greatest social evils.
John A. Phillips, in his book EVE, The History of an Idea, notes
Modern scholarship regards most earlier interpretations of Eve as prime
examples of eisegesis – that is, the reading into the text of the
writer’s own ideas and prejudices. The real Eve is the Eve of Genesis,
and a faithful exegesis of the scriptural story … will disclose her.
The history of the interpretation of Eve, modern scholars hold, is largely a
history of misunderstanding and malice … and has little to offer in
understanding the Eve of Genesis. 1
Phillips’ book details a steady flow, for long centuries, of the maligning of
Eve, including the imparting to her of attributes of the Greek Pandora myth in
which a young woman’s curiosity led her to open a box which released all evils
into the world. But although Phillips shows that change is on the way, he
does not come to a final conclusion.
The witness of Scripture
What does the Bible really say about Eve’s participation in the Fall?
In close reading and rereading of the Genesis account I have noted as never
before the difference in God’s dealing with Adam and with Eve. This, plus
the related New Testament passages and Job 31:33, has given sharp focus to the
whole account of the Fall.
In Genesis 1:1 God describes his Creation as “very good.” Both man and woman
were created in God’s image and were together instructed to multiply, fill the
earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over all living creatures.
Adam was to tend the
Garden of Eden which had been prepared for him, and to keep or guard it (Heb.
shamar, the same word as in Genesis 3:24 where cherubim and a sword guarded
the way to the tree of life). This implies that some evil power was
seeking to enter the Garden.
God told Adam that he
could eat fruit of every tree except the tree of knowledge of good and evil that
was in the center of the Garden. The tree was there to remind him that God
the Creator was sovereign, and that he, Adam, was God’s creation, dependent upon
and answerable to God. If he were to eat of the forbidden tree, the
disobedience, an act of independence from God, would separate him from God, the
source of life, and he would die. All this was not spelled out, for
obedience was not to be through compulsion or fear, but by voluntary choice,
responding to the Creator’s love and goodness.
Adam had the pleasant
occupation of looking after a beautiful garden-park with animals to enjoy and
train if he wished, and he had fellowship with God. Yet God saw that it
was “not good” for him to be alone, and formed woman from his side, drawn out
and molded from the same physical and soul-stuff as he – a mate, his equal
partner and counterpart, of the same essence, but different.
Commenting on the
statement that God found Adam’s condition now to be not good, Katharine Bushnell
says we are not told what were the signs of this change, “… but the following
points should be weighed: (1) Adam was offered freely the tree of life (2:16)
but did not eat of it (2:22); (2) was made keeper as well as dresser of the
Garden (2:15), but Satan later enters it.…” She quotes early commentators:
William Law, a learned theologian and one of the most accomplished
writers of his day, declares: “Adam had lost much of his perfection before
his Eve was taken out of him, which was done to prevent worse effects of his
fall and to prepare a means of his recovery when his fall should become
total.…” The German philosopher Jacob Behman taught that “There must have
been something in the nature of a stumble, if not an actual fall, while Adam
was yet alone in Eden.…” [John Wesley had all of his Methodist preachers
study Behman’s writings.]
Eve was created [Bushnell: he should have said elaborated,] to help Adam to
recover himself, and to establish himself in paradise, and in the favor,
fellowship and service of his Maker. 2
Adam’s devious reply to God’s questioning after the pair had eaten the forbidden
fruit shows that something had gone wrong. Further evidence of the
beginning of a fall was in his not protecting his young wife from the temptation
she was going to face. He was a silent observer.
The Genesis account does not say what Adam may have been told about the tree of
life, which also was in the center of the Garden (2:9). But for it to have
come down to us in Scripture, he must have known of it and spoken of it to his
progeny. Both trees are symbolic, the tree of life symbolic of commitment
to obedience and dependence upon the sovereign Creator-God, the source and giver
The woman was to be a strong help, Adam’s female counterpart. Gilbert
Bilizekian notes that the word helper (Heb. ezer) “is used in the Bible
as a designation for someone who rescues or saves from difficult situations
rather than for a subordinate assistant, which the word suggests in English.”
3 Nineteen of the twenty-one usages in the O.T.
concern God as help or helper.
Satan, who as a mighty angel had thrown off dependence upon God (cf.
Isa.14:12–15), used the serpent as a tool; hence, the creature’s craftiness and
subtlety. The evil one had slipped into the Garden. The serpent’s
appearance must have been more pleasing to the woman before God’s curse was
pronounced upon it. Paul could have had this in mind when he wrote: “Even
Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).
The serpent addressed the woman, possibly because she was the newcomer, not yet
in existence when God commanded Adam concerning the tree. Another view is
that she was seen as the stronger of the two, and if she fell, Adam would fall
too. Using the plural ‘you’ (‘ye’ in the King James Version of 3:1, 4-5)
because the man was “with her” and could be targeted also (v. 6), the tempter
asked: “Has God [really] said ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”
The woman responded directly that they could eat of every tree except one
designated one, adding emphasis given to her by Adam, or her own imagination, “…
neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”
The tempter then made the attack. “Ye shall not surely die: for God knows
that in the day ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be like
God, knowing good and evil” (3:4–5).
Now, was the woman to believe Adam’s report or to believe the clever serpent?
The fruit looked good, and to gain wisdom also was good. Satan was
projecting on her his own fantasy, “to be like God,” which had caused his
downfall (cf. Isa.14:12 ff). The account does not indicate whether the
woman shared that particular wish. She was a recent arrival with much yet
to see and learn, and did not necessarily buy the tempter’s entire package.
The account reads: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and
that it was a delight to the eyes, and was to be desired to make one wise, she
took of the fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with
her, and he ate” (v. 6).
Eve felt free to reply to the tempter without consulting her husband.
There was no hierarchy, no male dominance, before the fall. It would,
however, have been good for the two to have talked together about the matter.
The oneness which had been God’s intention for them was not yet their
experience. Apparently this relationship also would be achieved by right
choices in a growing fellowship and love.
The man’s silence throughout signifies assent. There is no suggestion
that the woman persuaded him or that persuasion would have been necessary.
Why was he so compliant? Why did he not intervene, rebuke the tempter, and
order him out of the Garden?
Adam had been in the
Garden longer, had rich experiences with God, but apparently must have wondered
about that one tree and was already open to doubt and temptation. The
forbidden tree was tantalizing. Bilizekian says Adam let his wife act out
his own fantasy for autonomy, self-determination, hiding behind her skirts, as
it were. He knew his young wife had extenuating circumstances, but he had
none. 4 Besides, she apparently had not
died from the fruit!
Although unaware, both died spiritually. They now felt shame
for their nakedness, and made aprons of fig leaves to cover themselves.
Then, hearing the approach of God in the cool of the evening, they hid among the
God called to the man
and questioned him, using the singular pronoun ‘thou’ (3:9 KJV). Adam
replied, “I heard … I was afraid, because I was naked … I hid myself.” God
asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of
which I commanded you not to eat?” The man knew he had disobeyed, but made
a circuitous confession: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she
gave me fruit from the tree and I ate” (v.12) [emphasis added]. He dared
to involve God. No reference to the deceiver who was behind it all, who
had gotten past him into the Garden and may have remained nearby, gloating.
Whether intentionally or not, Adam shielded the tempter.
Then God said to
the woman, “What is this that you have done?” She answered forthrightly:
not, “The serpent that you created deceived me, and my husband did not stop me.”
Not, “The Devil made me do it.” She gave the facts: “The serpent deceived me,
and I ate.” She transgressed, having known of the prohibition, but was not
willfully disobedient. She had believed the deceiver. Now
recognizing the lie, she denounced and opposed him.
Marvin R. Vincent, in
his Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, because of prefixes on the
verbs translates 1 Timothy 2:14 as: “Eve, being thoroughly deceived,
fell into transgression.” Weymouth’s
New Testament reads: “The woman was thoroughly deceived, and so became
The woman and the man
both transgressed, both sinned. But God did not deal with both of them the
same because there was premeditation in the action of the man, who had longer
experience with God and had heard the prohibition firsthand. With no
hesitation or objection, he had accepted the fruit and eaten it.
In Romans 5:12–19, Paul states that sin entered by one man, using the Greek
anthropos, which could mean either human or male. But twice in the
passage he names Adam. “… death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over
those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam.…” Eve was one whose
transgression was not like Adam’s. She had believed the tempter.
Adam had sinned with full knowledge of what he was doing. Job wrote in
31:33 (KJV, NKJV): “If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding my
iniquity in my bosom . . .” RSV, NIV, and NRSV have footnotes: “as Adam,” or “as
Adam did.” The Apostle’s statement in Romans 5:14 about Adam’s transgression
would appear to hark back to Job’s giving endorsement to the KJV’s retaining
the personal name Adam in the text.
Some will object,
saying “Sin is sin.” That is true. But there are differences, as stated
above. Our Lord himself said: “That slave who knew what his master wanted
but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe
beating. But the one that did not know and did what deserved a beating
will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given,
much will be required.…” (Luke 12:47). In Matthew 12:31 and Mark 3:29,
Jesus speaks of the sin that has no forgiveness – blasphemy against the Holy
Spirit. The Bible has degrees of culpability; and our legal systems
recognize degrees of guilt.
God then pronounced a curse on the serpent. It would slither along the
ground and eat dust, and the enmity would increase between the serpent and the
woman and between its progeny and hers. He gave the promise also of a
coming victor who would crush the serpent’s head (3:14–15). The woman
would bear the consequences of her sin, but her clear confession had put her in
opposition to Satan, on God’s side.
God’s sentencing of
the serpent had begun with the words, “Because you have done this.…” He used the
same words with the man: “Because you have done this … cursed is the ground
because of you. In toil you shall eat of it.…”
God did not curse the
man himself, but because of his disobedience the ground from which he had come
was cursed. God did not say to Eve, “Because you have done this.…” No
curse was pronounced on her or because of her, although the ground being cursed
would affect her too (cf. Rom. 8:19–23). And because of her transgression,
the process of eventual physical death had begun in her body, as it had in
Adam’s. Childbearing, which was a blessing in the Creation mandate
(1:28a), would be affected. But God would not turn into a curse what had
been given as a blessing.
entitles chapter 10 in her book, God’s Word to Women, “Eve Becomes a
Believer.” That is a bold statement, but she comes to it through the Genesis
passage itself, as we shall see in Eve’s recognition of God’s working out of the
promise of the seed that would come (3:15; 4:1).
Then, what are we to
make of 3:16: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you
shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he
shall rule over you.”
As a missionary doctor
in China, perplexed by the substitution in Chinese Bibles of the word
“yokefellows” in place of “women who labored with Paul,” in Philippians 4:3, Dr.
Bushnell was shocked when a male colleague told her that the mistranslation
undoubtedly was due to prejudice on the part of male translators. The
doctor had never thought of such a possibility. She had studied classical
languages and now gave herself to increased Bible study with intense research
into texts in the original languages in England’s university libraries and
Her findings are
warmly acknowledged by Gordon-Conwell Seminary’s president and Old Testament
scholar, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., as basis for two chapters concerning those words
by God to Eve in his book, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament. He
agrees with Bushnell’s translation of Genesis 3:16, which follows the
Septuagint: “A snare [a lying in wait] has increased your sorrow and sighing.
In sorrow (or pain) you will bring forth children.” Kaiser adds, “… note that
bearing children in itself was a blessing described in the so-called orders of
creation in Genesis 1:28. The grief lies not so much in the conception or
the act of childbirth itself, but in the whole process of bringing children into
the world and raising them to be whole persons before God.”
Kaiser agrees also
with Bushnell’s findings on the word teshuqa, translated in 1528 as
‘desire’ (or lust) by an Italian monk named Pagnino and continued in most
English translations since then. Before Pagnino, teshuqa was regularly
translated ‘turning.’ Kaiser quotes Bushnell: “The Hebrew reads: ‘You are
turning away [from God] to your husband, and [as a result] he will [simple
future NIV, not imperative shall] rule over you.’”6
In her God’s Word to Women, Bushnell devotes twelve pages to the history
of the mistranslation of teshuqa.
She also notes that
nothing says that Eve was expelled from the Garden (3:24).
accepted, in God’s not pronouncing a curse on her or because of her, and in the
position of enemy of Satan and bearer of the seed from which the Victor would
come, if Eve did not come to true faith when God dealt with her face to face,
when better could she?
Lest it be said that
Eve did not repent and ask forgiveness, neither did Saul who became Paul ask
forgiveness in his Damascus Road experience, nor did Peter after his denial of
the Lord Jesus. They acted their repentance for the rest of their lives.
H. L. Ellison says:
“In contrast to the mediaeval misrepresentation of women, attributing the main
blame for the Fall to her (going back as early as Sirach 25:24), an attitude
unfortunately perpetuated in measure by the reformation churches, God’s promise
sees her playing a main role in the coming conflict.” 7
Now ‘turning’ to her
husband, she either accompanied him out of the Garden or followed after, surely
with hope of achieving the oneness that had been intended for them.
In time, a son was
born to them. God had promised a birth that would bring victory over
Satan. Eve rejoiced over her firstborn, exclaiming, “I have gotten a man
with the help of the Lord” (4:1), which Bushnell translates as “I have gotten a
man [the word baby had not yet been coined] – even The Coming One!” Eve’s
reasoning is understandable, although she was mistaken in identifying Cain, her
firstborn, as the promised one. Bushnell states: “The earliest Hebrew
often employs ‘v’ (or ‘w,’ which is the same letter), where later Hebrew employs
‘j.’ The future form of the verb ‘to be’ is ‘jhjh,’ which is the name for
Jehovah, Jahve, or Jahwe [Yahweh], as the name is variously spelled in English.”8
H. L. Ellison writes on 4:1 in the IVF International Bible Commentary:
Mediaeval commentators, as well as some later ones, understood Eve’s
joyful words as meaning “I have gotten a man, even Yahweh,” as though she
thought that Cain was the fulfillment of 3:15. This is highly
improbable, though it is a possible rendering of the Hebrew. On the
other hand, her recognition that her son was Yahweh’s gift suggests a
growing trust in God (cf. 4:25). 9
Ellison does not explain why he thinks that Bushnell’s understanding is
highly improbable. She quotes Dean of Canterbury Payne-Smith (1818–1895),
also a member of the then Old Testament Revision Company. He wrote in
Jehovah means literally “He will come,” that is, “The Coming One.” The
name is really man’s answer to and acceptance of the promises made in
Genesis 3:15, and why should not Eve, to whom the promise was given, be the
first to profess faith in it?… She did not know the meaning of the words she
uttered, but she had believed the promise, and for her faith’s sake the
spirit of prophecy rested upon her.… 10
Alexander Whyte also
wrote: “Cain’s mother mistook Cain for Christ.… What a joyful woman Eve
was that day!” 11
Bushnell calls Eve
“the first redeemed through faith in His name.” These thoughts may be new to
most readers, but are compelling ones. Students of the Bible will have to
decide for themselves in light of the complete Genesis account. Eve’s
crucial encounter with God in the Garden, and his promise, surely would remain
ever vivid in her mind. Cain, Eve’s firstborn, had a father who had
rebelled against God. Cain murdered his brother, and is there not a
connection? While Eve was nursing, weaning, and training baby Abel, there
would be bonding between Adam and his firstborn. After a time, Seth,
another son, was born.
Seth later had a son
whom he named Enosh. Then we read, “At that time men began to call upon
the name of the Lord” (4:26). Had Adam turned back to God in repentance
through Eve’s influence and that of a loving God? A change must have taken
place in the home life to cause such a change. The God-fearing Seth line
continued through Noah and beyond, in sharp contrast to the line of the departed
Cain (4:16), which knew violence and polygamy and which perished in the flood.
God had expressed his continuing care by clothing the couple (3:21) and by
the seeker of souls.
Some consider these
early chapters of Genesis like parables. Much spiritual history of the
human race can indeed be seen in them, but we are looking at them as the
listeners to Jesus and the Apostle Paul must have received them. Our Lord,
in his reply to the Pharisees who were testing him on the issue of divorce
(Matt.19:3 ff), stated God’s law of marriage as found in Genesis 2:24. On
the road to Emmaus, in conversation with the two disciples, “Beginning at Moses
and all the prophets he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things
concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He must have begun with Genesis 3:15,
the promise concerning the seed of the woman. Paul refers to the creation
of Adam and Eve in 1 Corinthians 11:8–12, and the forming of both and their
involvement in the fall in 1Timothy 2:13–14. He states Adam’s guilt in
Romans chapter 5.
The freedom of choice
The early chapters of Genesis are presented as the account of our first
parents, but they also tell the reader that human beings, meant to live for the
glory of God by obedience to and in dependence upon him, have freedom to choose.
If they choose wrongly, there can be forgiveness and reinstatement with the
loving Creator-God through repentance and turning to him with faith in his mercy
and provision of salvation.
We have quoted men and women whose diligent study is leading to lessening of the
blame that traditionally has fallen on Mother Eve. The worldwide abuse of
women and girls in our day is enormous and tragic. Satan is still the
archenemy of the woman, and in different ways, of the man. The woman is
vulnerable through an acquired inferior status and through her nurturing nature.
Christ was invariably her champion and encourager in his days on earth; and
through his servants marked change in attitude and conduct has, and is
continuing, to take place in many cultures. God haste the day when His
Church will fully demonstrate the equality and mutual love of its sons and
daughters for all the world to see.
1. John A. Phillips, Eve, The History of an Idea (New York: Harper & Row: 1984) Preface.
2. Katharine C. Bushnell, God's Word to Women: One Hundred Bible Studies
on Women’s Place in the Divine Economy (God's Word to Women Publishers: 1923,
1988, 1998), 32-34.
3. Gilbert Bilizekian, Christianity 101 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan
Publishing House: 1974, 1984, 1993), 126.
4. Ibid., 129-30.
5. Dana Hardwick, Oh Thou Woman that Bringest Good Tidings: The Life and Work of
Katharine C. Bushnell (Minneapolis: C.B.E., 1995), 18.
6. Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP),
7. H. L. Ellison, "Genesis," The International Bible Commentary
Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House: 1986), 118.
8. Bushnell, op. cit., 33.
9. Ellison, cp. cit., 118, 119.
10. Bushnell, op. cit., 34.
11. Bible Characters (Grand Rapids. Zondervan Publishing House: 1970), 28.